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Thumb sucking is a natural tendency for babies and young children, it helps them to feel comforted and nurtured. However, if thumb sucking continues for too long, it can cause damage in the long run to teeth and mouths. So what are the exact consequences of thumb sucking, and how can you help your child to quit the habit at an appropriate age?

Babies are born with a natural tendency to suck on something – one way they first explore the world is by putting objects in their mouth. This urge should decrease after the first couple months of life, but some babies will suck on their thumbs or fingers in an effort to calm themselves in certain situations when they feel anxious or restless, or when they are attempting to go to sleep. It is recommended that thumb sucking, including the use of a pacifier, stop at least by the age of three. After this age, if thumb sucking continues, it can impact the development of your child’s teeth.

Thumb sucking or using a pacifier can ruin the alignment of the teeth once they have started to develop, resulting in the need for dental and orthodontic work that can become costly. An overbite or an underbite can also start to develop, as well as jawbone alignment issues. Bite and jaw alignment issues can result in headaches, pain when eating and can also be the cause of teeth grinding at night, which wears the teeth down over time. Improper tooth alignment and bite issues can also cause speech impediments over time. Additionally, thumb sucking can cause the roof of your child’s mouth to become more sensitive, making it less enjoyable to eat certain foods.

Another reason your child should get out of the habit of thumb sucking is they are spreading germs and bacteria to the rest of their body. Children at this age likely don’t yet understand the importance of good hygiene, and they likely aren’t always keeping their hands very clean. When they are sucking their thumb for extended periods of time, they are putting countless bacteria into their body which can lead to them getting sick more often.

So what can you do to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking or using a pacifier? One approach is to simply teach them the importance of quitting thumb sucking along with the downsides of continuing to suck their thumbs. You can also help your child quit thumb sucking at night by putting socks over their hands at bedtime to prevent the natural tendency.

Another solution is to implement a rewards chart so your child can see their progress and feel good about not sucking their thumb. A positive attitude will encourage your child more and can also help with anxiety that could be a cause of their thumb sucking. It’s equally important not to scold your child about sucking their thumb, as this can create a negative attitude and stress that could encourage the tendency even more.

If your child is around two years of age or so, thumb sucking and continued use of a pacifier is completely normal. As they approach three years old, be thinking of slowly weaning them off a pacifier and start thinking about ways you can peacefully encourage thumb sucking and pacifier use to stop.

Talk to your child orthodontist if thumb sucking continues to be an habit for your four or five year old. They can provide further solutions and advice to encourage your child to quit, as well as address any development issues that may be present as a result of thumb sucking.

Contact us at Case Orthodontics in Charlotte, North Carolina for early orthodontic treatment for your child. Some of our services include phase 1 and phase 2 orthodontics for children, as well as adult treatment. Our doctors take great pride in helping your child realize the best version of their smile!